Chrome for Mac Imminent, Why We Should Care


It has been a long time coming. Google’s Chrome web browser has been available on Windows for over a year, while Mac users have been left with three options — take their chances with a nightly build of the open-source fork of Chrome (dubbed Chromium), use Google’s developer release, or wait for an official Google release.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler reported yesterday that Chrome for Mac is just a handful of bugs away from a release — specifically, seven bugs, in case you’re counting. But in order to reach their end-of-year deadline for release, the code-jockeys at Google had to do a bit of a hatchet-job on the Mac version of their browser.

So far, Siegler says, all signs point to the exclusion of the Bookmark Manager, App Mode (which emulates the single-window web app functionality offered by Fluid), Task Manager, Gears, Sync for Mac (for syncing bookmarks across Macs), Multi-touch Gesture support, Full Screen Mode and Extensions.

Mike Pinkerton, Technical Lead for Google Chrome for Mac, was asked by Twitter user @boundlessdreamz “When will extensions work correctly on mac? Is that a blocker?”

Pinkerton replied, “No on extensions for beta. But we’ll get them soon. Must draw the line somewhere.”

If you’re a Safari user, you won’t feel too bad about missing Extensions support. If Safari proves anything, it’s that a fully functional and productive web browser doesn’t need to be chock-full of third-party extensions. Mine has only two; Evernote and 1Password. And I could probably live without the former, if I’m honest.

The lack of Gears comes as no great surprise, either. Google Gears doesn’t work on Snow Leopard anyway, and Google has been uncharacteristically rubbish at communicating why it’s being so slow at fixing it. On this point, Siegler adds, “Apparently, Google plans to push ahead with full HTML5 support rather than rely on Gears, at least on the Mac.”

I wonder what prompted that decision? Timing? Complexity? Or perhaps Gears becomes less desirable in a standards-compliant WebKit-world where functionality, speed and compatibility across multiple devices and multiple form-factors becomes the driving force in browser development.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know which technology more elegantly supports offline data storage; Gears or HTML5. In any case, Gears’ absence on Snow Leopard is deeply irritating for those of us who want to use GMail offline, or take advantage of drag-and-drop functionality in Google Wave. If Chrome marks the start of a Google-wide migration away from Gears and toward HTML5 (even if only for the Mac), I welcome it.

Also out of the equation (at this stage, anyway) is any mention of 64-bit compatibility. But there is, predictably, nothing surprising about that at all. If, like me, you’ve been pursuing the 64-bit dream, you’ll know how consistently disappointing the experience is — practically no one is building apps with true support for 64-bit OS X — and no, Apple’s home-grown Mail and iCal apps don’t count!

Why Should We Care?

For the last five months I’ve tried various builds of Chromium, which has so far been a bit of a mixed-bag when it comes to little things like performance and stability. Oh wait — did I say those were “little things?” Of course, what I meant to say was “stonking-great major issues.”

To be fair, Chromium shows promise, but it’s still much too “unfinished” to be my primary browser. And in case you were wondering, my primary browser is Safari. No, not because I’m an Apple fanboi, but because it’s stable, it’s lightweight, and it’s not a resource-hog. I used to love Firefox and recommended it to everyone, but I barely use the thing these days. Even with no third-party extensions installed, it takes an age to load and the UI is bafflingly inconsistent with the rest of OS X.

Ultimately, why should we care about Yet Another Browser? Well, just consider how much time you spend in a browser every day. Personally, most of my time is spent in Safari. I regularly have several dozen tabs open, often for days at a time. Most of my work is made up of hours spent reading, researching and writing, and while the latter used to take place in a dedicated word processor, Safari is now so stable and dependable I’ve gradually started doing more and more real-time, “live” writing inside the browser. I never would have taken that risk a year ago, but now I barely give it a thought.

In fact, the browser is such a primary, fundamental element in day-to-day computing that Google has built an entire operating system out of it.

In short, web browsers are big business, and make all the difference in how we perceive, experience and interact with the web. I’m all for a new browser that’s fast and functional and plays well with the websites and services I already use. I’m looking forward to putting Chrome for Mac through its paces — I hope it was worth the wait.


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